Back to school. Get ready for many a sleepless night, cuz you gotta be up all night drinking and barfing (first time out of the nest for so many), and then you gotta be up all night studying, trying to make up for all those nights spent par-tay-ing.
Energy drinks like Red Bull, Rock Star, Impulse, Red Dragon, Hype, Pulse and Diablo may sound like a good way to keep those power levels up. But are they? For years there's been speculation about the caffeine levels in these drinks and its interaction with ingredients like taurine and glucuronolactone. Many say more research is needed. These bottled mood revvers may also contain guarana and maté, both of which contain caffeine on top of the drinks' "added caffeine."
Then, of course, there are warnings about mixing these liquids with alcohol, which many are quick to do.
In accordance with recently imposed regulations, Red Bull now has a natural health product number (NPN), but it's the only one that does. Health Canada has received four adverse reaction reports about energy drinks. Symptoms include electrolyte disturbance, nausea and vomiting and heart irregularities.
What the experts say?
"The side effects if you drink more than two of these can be drastic. Dehydration, for example. The amino acid taurine helps cell membrane stability, regulating heartbeat and brain activity. I think they've put it in Red Bull to counteract possible adverse reactions. There are alternatives. The herbs I recommend are adaptogens that support the adrenal glands. Rodeola is an excellent one, as is ashwanganda , the Indian ginseng, and Siberian ginseng . There's also borage . For brain power, there's ginkgo biloba . Organic green tea is good for energy."
ZORANA ROSE , naturopath, Toronto
"The issue is the combination of caffeine, taurine, which is an amino acid, and glucuronolactone, which is a normal constituent of connective tissue and a derivative of glucose or sugar in the body. When they're taken individually, there don't seem to cause problems, but there has been little research on their combined use. Safety concerns have arisen because of some deaths. We have no idea what chronic use might do. In high doses, there is evidence of aggressive behaviour in rats. Glucuronolactone may have a diuretic effect similar to caffeine's, which may cause you to lose more water and blood volume. People don't always limit themselves to one or two a day. Students may use it hourly to cram. Or in combination with alcohol, dancing with friends, it's not unheard of for people to drink four, five, six or seven cans over an evening."
ERIC MARSDEN , naturopath, Toronto
"Caffeine levels [in these drinks] are not much higher than coffee. But if you already drink other caffeinated things, you need to be careful. We warn against mixing caffeine and alcohol. Other things to consider are that most energy drinks contain a lot of sugar, and most contain more than one serving per container."
JAMIE KOPF HIRSH , associate editor, Consumer Reports, Yonkers, New York
"There's nothing wrong with energy drinks as long as they're treated appropriately. Most of them only have moderate amounts of caffeine, like 80 mg. That's like a small, weak cup of coffee. One Red Bull is like two cans of Coke with respect to caffeine, so one or two a day is fine. Caffeine content can vary with different brands, and some have added stimulants like ginseng, so it's an issue of being savvy. There is potential for abuse. Some of the larger cans, like Rock Star, can have up to 140 or 160 mg of caffeine. The guidelines [recommend a limit of] 400 to 450 mg a day, so a couple of cans would be right near the maximum."
DOUG COOK , dietitian, Toronto
"Red Bull is the only energy drink authorized for sale by Health Canada. We are currently reviewing applications for other energy drinks. This is required for all products that make health claims. Energy drinks are fine as long as they are used as per the label requirements. If you drink 10 Red Bulls, you're going to have an adverse reaction."
RENEE BERGERON , spokesperson, Health Canada, Ottawa